CHELTENHAM >> Surely, it was always her dream. Even more so, Chanel Brissett felt it was her destiny.
“I knew that this would come if I worked hard and I stayed focused,” the Cheltenham senior said of running on the Division I level. “This means the world to me because it’s all I’ve been thinking about since I was younger.”
Surrounded by her teammates, her coach, and her parents (proudly wearing cardinal and gold), in a ceremony packed with smiles along with some happy tears, Brissett signed her college letter of intent on Tuesday morning, officially announcing that she will be running for The University of Southern California.
Just like the many competitors that chased after her on the track, many schools — the likes of Kentucky, Florida, and Florida State, to name a few — pursued the Olympic Trial sprinter. On Tuesday it was quite evident she’s thrilled to be a Trojan.
“I wore the hat, I wore the shirt all day,” Brissett said.
“I think it was mostly education, not just track,” she said of what helped her make her choice. “When I went on the visit, a lot of the girls seemed very focused to me. And I had a lot of fun and there was a lot of team bonding.
“And I really felt like the atmosphere was so gravitating. I felt that’s where I need to be.”
Brissett joins a program that was heavily-represented at the Olympic Games in Rio this past summer. In fact, USC won a total of nine medals in track and field, its most ever in a single Olympic Games, topping the eight it earned at the 1932 and 1936 Olympics.
Just 16 years old when she traveled to Eugene, Oregon in July, Brissett made it all the way to the Olympic Trial Semifinals of the 100-meter hurdles.
She qualified for the semis by running a 12.95, which tied the Pennsylvania state record and put her at the No. 3 ranking on the all-time national high school list.
The youngster competed with a level of poise beyond her years.
“She was running against professionals, against athletes whose coaches were recruiting her heavily, and she just focused on her thing and kept her cool,” said Cheltenham coach Kelly Jensen. “She did the same thing as if it were a dual meet out here.
“Here she is at the Olympic Trials and she’s like ‘you know what? This can be fun.’ She was laughing and having fun. It was nice to see that she had that maturity. And she’s gonna carry that to USC.”
Brissett will not be your typical freshman.
“She provides a leadership,” Jensen said, “and a maturity and a humility. Because track is a pretty individualized sport, and if you don’t come to perform every day, you can’t rest on your laurels.”
Brissett led the Panthers to state titles both indoors and outdoors last year, breaking the state record in the 60-meter hurdles during the winter and winning state gold with a time of 8.23.
In the spring, the Cheltenham standout broke the PIAA meet record to win the Class AAA state title in the 100 hurdles, with a time of 13.19.
After that the speedster was the one to watch at the New Balance Nationals, where she dropped even more time, clocking a 13.01 to take top honors in an outstanding field.
Then it was off to Eugene.
“This past year was so amazing,” Brissett said. “I got to meet people that I never saw before. I got treated like a pro. I got to run amongst the best. And I think that’s the most important thing about the sport.”
Thanking her older brother, Christian, who runs for Iowa, for helping her throughout the recruiting process, Brissett continues what has become a family tradition. Making it to the DI level also been quite a habit for Cheltenham — Katelyn Jackson is running at UCLA and Ciara Leonard competes for Virginia.
With her ability and intensity as well as a smile that lights up a morning press conference, Brissett appears quite ready to carve out a substantial legacy at USC.
And she can still add to her legend at Cheltenham.
“It’s just the beginning,” Brissett said. “(Senior year’s) gonna be fantastic. I’ll be doing sprints and the hurdles of course. I’m gonna bring some new stuff, drop some time, and set a couple records.”
Top Photo: Cheltenham’s Chanel Brissett signed her letter of intent to continue her career at USC. (Kev Hunter/Digital First Media)